Category: Sports

Hooked on You by Kate Meader

Hooked on You by Kate MeaderHooked On You by Kate Meader
Series: Chicago Rebels, #4
Published by Pocket Books on May 7th 2018
Pages: 384
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three-stars

Violet Vasquez never met her biological father, so learning he left his beloved hockey franchise—the Chicago Rebels—to her is, well, unexpected. Flat broke and close to homeless, Violet is determined to make the most of this sudden opportunity. Except dear old dad set conditions that require she takes part in actually running the team with the half-sisters she barely knows. Working with these two strangers and overseeing a band of hockey-playing lugs is not on her agenda…until she lays eyes on the Rebels captain and knows she has to have him.

Bren St. James has been labeled a lot of things: the Puck Prince, Lord of the Ice, Hell’s Highlander...but it’s the latest tag that’s making headlines: washed-up alcoholic has-been. This season, getting his life back on track and winning the Cup are his only goals. With no time for relationships—except the fractured ones he needs to rebuild with his beautiful daughters—he’s finding it increasingly hard to ignore sexy, all-up-in-his-beard Violet Vasquez. And when he finds himself in need of a nanny just as the playoffs are starting, he’s faced with a temptation he could so easily get hooked on.

For two lost souls, there’s more on the line than just making the best of a bad situation… there might also be a shot at the biggest prize of all: love.

Kate Meader’s writing is always one that I look out for. There’s quirk, some humour and sometimes cheese, but it never fails to entertain. ‘Hooked On You’ closes Meader’s Chicago Rebels series and having come fresh off the scorching push-pull relationship of Cade/Dante, I really wasn’t sure what to expect with Violet/Bren’s story, even though this pairing had been hinted at from the very beginning.

A burly, surly Scot in trouble on so many fronts and a plucky, somewhat abrasive and determined-to-live-life-to-the-fullest cancer survivor? I took a breath and dove into a setup that was 3-books-in-coming and had my expectations exceeded on some fronts, especially when it came to Bren St. James.

As an alcoholic struggling with petulant pre-teens—the kind that swing between being difficult with everything and weird know-it-alls—I felt for Bren, his clawing back up into sobriety while doing everything he could to be a better man and a father. That Violet ended up as their nanny incidentally came as no surprise however, and I did enjoy reading how their initial rocky, contentious, sniping-type interaction smoothed out a little later on, held together only by sexual tension that Bren didn’t want to break for good reasons.

Meader’s exploration of what femininity might mean through Violet—having lost and reconstructed her breasts after the ordeal—was generally spot-on. With a hard front, a couldn’t-care-less, indifferent attitude that Violet put on, the shell of armour composed of sass, biting sarcasm and confrontational belligerence seemed too often like an over compensation for a vulnerable core. And I could, by and large, understand it. I got to grips with how fear could masquerade as courage and how the subtleties could be lost as Violet grappled with how she wanted to face life after cancer.

Still, while I understood Meader’s portrayal of Violet, I didn’t necessarily get to grips with her all the time. With a boatload of daddy-issues tattooed on her forehead and a chip on her shoulder a mile wide, I couldn’t help but feel that Violet was as easy to set off as a rocket, sometimes lashing out unfairly while taking on contradictory positions where Bren and his children were concerned. One moment she wanted to fight for Bren when his malicious ex-wife sauntered back into the picture, the next moment had her walking away with a dollop of self-pity because she’d assumed the martyr’s stance with him while assuming that he wasn’t ever going to put her first. For her immense courage in fighting the cancer, I did wish however, that she could have used that same courage with Bren (who truly had his hands full) when he needed it.

‘Hooked on You’ is nonetheless a pretty good read—Meader’s previous novella with Cade/Dante is probably my favourite—though honestly, I liked it more for Bren, who’s probably one of the best characters I’ve ever come across beneath the broody surface. There were bits that I thought lagged a little and parts where the back-and-forth got a tad tiresome, but overall, I’m still sort of wistful as I wave the Rebels goodbye.

three-stars

Medley by Layla Reyne

Medley by Layla ReyneMedley by Layla Reyne
Series: Changing Lanes, #2
Published by Riptide Publishing on April 23rd 2018
Pages: 207
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three-stars

Sebastian Stewart was never Mr. Dependable; he was more the good-time guy who only wanted to swim, party, and ink tattoos. Until he cost his team the Olympic gold four years ago. Bas is determined to do right this time around—by his medley relay team and his rookie mentee.

Jacob Burrows is in over his head. The Olympic experience—from the hazing, to the endless practices, to the unrelenting media—makes the shy nineteen-year-old’s head spin. He’s trying to be everything to everyone while trying not to fall for his gorgeous tattooed teammate who just gets him—gets his need to fix things, his dorky pirate quips, and his bisexuality.

When Jacob falters under the stress, threatening his individual races and the medley relay gold, he needs Bas’s help to escape from drowning. Bas, however, fearing a repeat of his mistakes four years ago, pushes Jacob away, sure he’ll only let Jacob down. But the only path to salvaging gold is for Jacob to finally ask for what he needs—the heart of the man he loves—and for Bas to become the dependable one.

I was impatient for ’Medley’—Sebastian’s and Jacob’s story—after the excitement I had for Layla Reyne’s ‘Relay’. The play for the ultimate olympics glory, the seething emotions and the drama that lay behind it, the tears and sweat and the extremes of emotions? I loved it all.

But for better or worse, ‘Medley’ ravaged me and not in a good way. The presence of bisexual protagonists in the books I read don’t bother me and even though the acceptance or the rejection of it is a major theme in the book, I typically hold my romantic protagonists to a more basic standard: a bloody arse of a character (regardless of sexuality) isn’t likeable; worse yet, if the bastard in question is a protagonist in romance whom I’m supposed to cheer on.

That said, I struggled hard with liking Sebastian Stewart and by the end, still steadfastly believed that Jacob Burrows deserved anyone else but him.

In the blurb, Reyne hinted at a catastrophic meet 4 years ago involving Bas going off the rails and a backstory that no one would like. What I seemed to have witnessed first hand however, was one man’s strong denial, insecurity and debilitating fear of being left behind that cut a large swath of destruction through people. I felt as much for Bas’s ex as I did for Jacob, 2 individuals who’d only wanted to be happy with Bas, yet were only taken for the run around and annihilated and humiliated emotionally by him instead. As victims or collateral damage, so to speak, of Bas’s commitment-phobic stance, I hated that they’d both paid the emotional price for his stupidity and his stubbornness for using his own past to lash out against those who cared about him. That it had to take Jacob to hit rock bottom for Bas to finally conduct some form of self-examination brought him even lower in my esteem when I thought it couldn’t get any lower.

In fact, I didn’t feel as though Bas had redeemed himself in anyway—an apology, sudden promises, staying the night after sex counted very little in my opinion—when this supposed atonement simply didn’t match the trail of destruction and the heartache he’d left in his wake. For that reason, I also didn’t like Julio painted as the scorned, jilted lover (even though he was) and his resentment did seem justified when he’d been the one whom Bas kicked out of his life in the worse way possible because the latter simply couldn’t handle commitment.

Apart from the rambling rant about characters, I actually did find Layla Reyne’s writing thrilling. Her swimming scenes were brilliantly fashioned and I loved her portrayal of Jacob and how easy it was to find him a sympathetic character whom I identified with immediately. Catching up with Alex and Dane proved also to be a brief respite from the ongoing drama and waves that Bas caused and in the end, I couldn’t help but latch onto the team’s grounding presence when the hooky drama surrounding Bas became too much.

three-stars

Game On by Nicola Marsh

Game On by Nicola MarshGame On by Nicola Marsh
Series: Women of W.A.R #1
Published by Escape Publishing on February 20th 2018
Pages: 63
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two-half-stars

Are they playing to win…or playing for keeps?

Angelica Bryant has a dream. The only child of a soccer legend, she pays her bills by working at her father’s bar while pursuing her goals: a role in sports management and a place in the newly established Women’s Aussie Rules league. Football is her passion, and she won’t let anything get in her way: including an ill-advised one-night-stand with one of Australia’s most successful agents.

Jaxon Flint thrives on success. His workaholic lifestyle keeps his agency and the athletes he represents at the top of their game – and all of his emotions at bay. Until he meets Angie, W.A.R.’s newest star, who undermines his carefully laid plans and gets under his skin. Is he willing to relinquish his careful control both in and out of the bedroom?

When Angie and Jaxon end up working together, it’s game on!

I started out the Women of W.A.R. series in reverse order, leaving Nicola Marsh’s novella for the last, and to my relief, discovered that reading the books in any order had no bearing on my understanding of the timeline at all.

There was so much I liked about the initial setup, the pacing of the opening scenes and the conflict that Marsh had set up between Jaxon and Angie. And then it felt like everything was over before it began. It was clear that both Angie and Jaxon struggled with issues that I was looking forward to see Marsh unentangling, which unfortunately, didn’t quite happen at all. As a result, Jaxon seemed more like a bundle of contradictions (and an arse to boot in the way he blew hot and cold with Angie despite his own self-awareness), whose flat denial about not wanting commitment in order to keep his life uncomplicated wasn’t entirely given much depth, as was Angie’s somewhat abruptly resolved situation with her father as she tried to find her own way forward.

While Marsh did capture key moments for Angie and Jax, the brevity of this novella meant that the passing of time felt very pronounced with each chapter and with it, came a bit more telling rather than showing. I thought ‘Game On’ had so much potential, but was ultimately, disappointed by the lack of development that could have otherwise, made this a brilliant read.

two-half-stars

Long Game by Catherine Evans

Long Game by Catherine EvansLong Game by Catherine Evans
Series: , #2
Published by Escape Publishing, Escape Publishing - Harlequin Enterprises, Australia Pty Ltd on February 1st 2018
Pages: 108
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three-stars

oes she dare pursue all her dreams?

Everyone in Grong Grong knows Cress Kennedy’s childhood dream is to play Aussie Rules Football, so when the Sydney Sirens sign her in the new Women’s Aussie Rules competition, she heads to the big city to pursue her dream. But no one in Grong Grong knows of Cress’s other dreams: the ones that revolve entirely around Quin Fitzpatrick.

Quin Fitzpatrick left Grong Grong as an eighteen-year-old to play Aussie Rules in Sydney, but after eight years the shine has gone from the lifestyle. When his best friend’s little sister follows in his country-to-city footsteps, he promises to look after her. She can stay with him and he’ll protect her as best he can. Besides, Watercress is the little sister he never had.

But Cress is all grown up now and playing Women’s Aussie Rules, and it’s about time that Quin sees her as a woman too..

I’ve always loved the idea of competitive women sports and Women in Aussie Rules – women playing Australian Footy – is the perfect platform to build budding romances in each regional team in the series. Catherine Evan takes on the Sydney Sirens with Cress Kennedy and her longtime childhood crush Quin Fitzpatrick, who was the first to leave their hometown of Grong Grong nearly a decade ago to follow that very dream they both shared.

The friends-to-lovers trope has always made me wary, because for me, there always had to be a set of criteria that should ideally be met; otherwise, I’d start questioning the validity of the pairing. Nonetheless, Quin/Cress do sort of work under the very specific circumstances that Evans has laid out: Quin left Grong Grong way before Cress really grew up, so their meeting again simply set the stage for a childhood friendship that deepened in the weeks they spent together in Sydney.

The setting couldn’t be more perfect – the Sydney harbour bridge climb was something I wanted to do some time ago, then balked at the horrific prices – and Evans’s way of writing Quin’s and Cress’s relationship did pull me in, despite the slow, slow burn. On the flip side of the coin, their hesitation to get involved any more deeply with each other was a source of frustration when the rushed conclusion and their less-than-ideal circumstances made for a HFN ending that made me wonder if this pairing would work out.

‘Long Game’ ended on a note of hope instead of a guaranteed Quin/Cress future when everything was still up in the air. And while I loved their commitment to each other because of it, the last bit proved somewhat dissatisfying especially after the long wait for Quin and Cress to finally end their dance around each other. In all, it was a mixed read for me – I certainly enjoyed myself, but definitely wished things could have turned out differently.

three-stars

Playing House by Amy Andrews

Playing House by Amy AndrewsPlaying House by Amy Andrews
Series: Sydney Smoke Rugby #5
Published by Entangled: Brazen on February 12th 2018
Pages: 250
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two-stars

Eleanor is content with her boring life—mostly. She’s even fine being the quirky sister in a bevy of beauties. So imagine her surprise when one of her brother’s Sydney Smoke mates hits on her at an engagement party. Her. The weird sister, who wears vintage dresses and prefers her books to parties.

Bodie is shocked the next morning to find the soft, sexy virgin who seduced him with corsets is his best friend’s little sister. If he could kick his own ass, he would. And two months later, she’s got an even bigger surprise for him. Now he needs to convince the corset-loving wallflower that he loves her uniqueness if they’ve got a chance at forever.

He always did love a challenge…

‘Playing House’ did kind of fall flat for me with the stereotypes that Amy Andrews played with here—the virgin and the supposed ‘accidental’ manwhore who used to be a committed boyfriend but was cheated on—but I’m writing this review with the understanding that this imprint is more to do with smexy times than anything else. Much of Bodie/Nell’s interactions were unsurprisingly, sex-based, so their time in between the sheets were prioritised over the harder and difficult issues that crop up in romance.

Andrews’s writing is superlative as always, so if you could adjust your expectations about this imprint, then Andrews definitely delivers, objectively speaking. Nell and Bodie did scorch the sheets via a deception Nell played because she just couldn’t wait any longer to lose her virginity.

Personally, I didn’t exactly buy into this pairing somehow—not when it seemed more about animal attraction and lust that apparently overrode every ounce of common sense and worse yet, when Nell simply delayed telling Bodie about the accidental pregnancy because they frustratingly did everything else and got on with sex except to deal with the actual issue at hand. In fact, I found myself skimming the sex scenes and that was when I knew I’d completely missed the point of the Brazen line.

I’m afraid that this book isn’t for me—too many bodily functions seemed to have gone into feeding frenzy along with a heroine whom I couldn’t sympathise with at all for her dodging and running away—at all, though I probably should have known better going into this particular imprint of Entangled’s.

two-stars

From Lukov with Love by Mariana Zapata

From Lukov with Love by Mariana ZapataFrom Lukov with Love by Mariana Zapata
Published by Mariana Zapata on February 1st 2018
Pages: 493
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three-stars

If someone were to ask Jasmine Santos to describe the last few years of her life with a single word, it would definitely be a four-letter one.

After seventeen years—and countless broken bones and broken promises—she knows her window to compete in figure skating is coming to a close.

But when the offer of a lifetime comes in from an arrogant idiot she’s spent the last decade dreaming about pushing in the way of a moving bus, Jasmine might have to reconsider everything.

Including Ivan Lukov.

I do have a love-hate relationship with the slow burn novel, over which Mariana Zapata seems to be the reining monarch. If the frequent complaint about novellas is the instant love/lust and the unrealistic view of a HEA that results because of it, the slow burn story tries to address this lack of believability by going in the opposite direction—to the chagrin of some readers, particularly when it doesn’t work out too well.

What the slow-burn does however, is allow the passing of (a lot of) time to do its magic…and for hidden sides of Zapata’s protagonists to emerge when it’s least expected. I did appreciate the multi-faceted character of Jasmine, though ultimately, I couldn’t find her entirely likeable. While I could empathise with her issues and cheer her burning ambitions, often she merely came off as self-absorbed and childishly juvenile, prone to outbursts of temper, vehemently disagreeing with everyone else for the bloody sake of saving her own pride. I did love Ivan, in contrast, for his ability to give it back as good as he got from Jasmine, for his loyalty and his unwavering support as she went through her mood swings and the quirky rescue animals he kept as a completely separate part of his life.

Still, ‘From Lukov with Love’ didn’t resonate with me that much, not because of the believability of it, but because of the pacing that crammed a romantic relationship in the last 30 pages of the book, while rest of it seemed to deal mostly with a developing friendship and a young woman’s own journey towards being better while getting some enlightenment about it in the process. I waded and skimmed through pages and pages of dialogue, cringing at weird descriptors such as ‘the redhead who had given birth to me’ just threw me off (what was wrong with simply using the word ‘mother’?!) and the copious repetitive blinking Ivan/Jasmine did, while wondering when the tension between them was finally going to break.

When it finally did, the switch was rushed and abrupt, without the sense of satisfaction I needed to feel because their friendship simply felt stretched past the point of elasticity. In fact, I thought the key moments of Ivan/Jasmine’s interactions could have made the story more streamlined and less cumbersome—not every scene or every recording of Jasmine’s inner monologues seemed necessary—especially when written with the deep, cutting emotional fervour that Zapata is capable of.

It isn’t the first time I’ve finished a Zapata book asking myself what the hell just happened, particularly when the HEA passes by in a blink. It’s akin to queuing hours for a ride at a carnival and only to have the thrill ride over in about 2 minutes and then I’m left to stumble out after being dazzled for a few moments, wishing the wait was more worth it.

three-stars

Virgin Territory by Lia Riley

Virgin Territory by Lia RileyVirgin Territory by Lia Riley
Series: Hellions Angels #3
Published by Avon Impulse on March 6th 2018
Pages: 131
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one-star

Practice Makes Perfect

Patrick “Patch” Donnelly has what it takes to be the best goalie in the NHL…if only he could learn to control his temper. When Coach orders him to get his head in the game with private yoga classes, Patch isn’t having it. There’s no way this tough Boston guy would be caught dead downward dog-ing his way to inner peace. But if he refuses, he risks his starting position and the dream he sacrificed everything for, including joining the priesthood.

Yoga instructor Margot Kowalski is over men. After yet another toxic relationship, she’s eager to forget love and focus on growing her business. Doing the Hellions head coach a favor by helping out a troubled player can't hurt, and it might give her career a high-profile boost. But free-spirited Margot is soon charming the pants off Patch. Literally. Her sassy combination of sweet and sexy proves irresistible to the goalie. Before Patch can give into temptation though, he’ll have to confess his biggest secret:

He’s a virgin.

But Patch is hiding more than sexual inexperience, and his dark past soon threatens to destroy his shot at true love.

I like Lia Riley’s writing—which strangely reminds me of the cocksure voices of authors like Kimberly Kincaid, Avery Flynn and a few others—and the self-assured tone that’s found throughout makes the reading process a breeze. And that was enough to request for an ARC of this book, though the premise of the story when I first read it, admittedly made me very wary of it, particularly when this thing called ‘virginity’ comes into question.

So this is all me, my own writerly and readerly hang-ups, that are being reflected in this review.

The imbalance of sexual experience, for want of a better way of putting it, isn’t exactly trope I like to read about; the role reversal here didn’t make much of a difference—the sexually-experienced woman and the virgin man, with the former going as far as to instruct the latter. And that makes me cringe, because reading romance novels has never been a tit-for-tat issue for me; I don’t purposefully go for books that deliberately try to turn the tables on supposed stereotypical gender roles simply because there have been too many manwhores and inexperienced women. While readers may crow about and love the role reversal here, my own reason deviates somewhat: I delve into romance to actually root for a couple that I think I can genuinely get behind and for a few hours of escapism from reality which good writing has the capability of doing, rather than for the purpose of gender shaming or the robust defence of one over the other.

Unfortunately, ‘Virgin Territory’ felt like that for me from the start—too much of it like a woman’s slamming rant against sexist men in order to reinforce what women should be allowed to do/believe in the 21st century. Like in ‘Head Coach’, there was a tad bit much of what sounded like meta-speak for women’s rights: why slut-shaming is wrong, why women should be free to have the sex they want, yada yada and it did come across as somewhat preachy at times…all through the mouth of Margot, whose repetitive, defensive insistence of it felt annoying after a while, particularly when it stemmed from a position of insecurity and loneliness.

There’s also the problem that seems inherent in ‘virgin’ romances, whether the virgin character is male or female—that a huge, huge deal is made out of it, or that it is either a huge stumbling block that makes people pause or that virginity is something pesky to be gotten rid of. Admittedly, that Patch’s religion had a part in this story, that he wanted sex to mean something and for once, I could actually appreciate how the church had been an anchor in his life, rather than the usual interpretation of toxic religion that much of romantic fiction uses as a crutch against love and sex. I felt for Patch, the difficult history he’s had, and the self-awareness he had of himself, which already put him far above many heroes I’ve read about.

Needless to say, for reasons that are clearly my own, ‘Virgin Territory’ was an excruciating read. I found that I couldn’t go on past the halfway mark, not because I don’t like Riley’s style, but because the subject matter put me off too much.

one-star